Maniacs for Mining Education

by | Jul 6, 2017 | Alumni Profiles, Summer 2017

Ryan Miles ’07, MS ’14 was frustrated. As a mining engineer who frequently traveled for work, he consistently found himself talking to people who confused mining engineering with data mining. Additionally, many people didn’t understand that mining is still a viable, thriving industry, critical to today’s world. Ryan knew he had to do something to better educate people about his field.

He and his wife, Jules, began brainstorming ways to inform people about the importance of the mining industry—thinking about creating a blog, starting a YouTube channel or even the more traditional route of submitting articles to academic journals. But one night, as the couple read a book from The Magic Treehouse series to their oldest child, Jules had the perfect idea. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we write something for kids?’” she said. “They’re so much easier to talk to, and we could teach them from a young age about the makeup of their world—a world made of rocks and minerals.”

They ran with this idea and developed a children’s book aimed at third- to fifth-grade students, called The Mineral Maniacs and the Magic Hardhat. The story follows the adventures of three young children—Marabel, Victor and Herbie—who find a magical hard hat in their science teacher’s classroom and are magically transported to a world with creatures made of stone, called the Paxterras. The young friends must help the Paxterras stop the bad guy—a rogue Paxterra named Sulfur—from stealing the entire supply of a particular mineral essential to their world. Along the way, the main characters learn about the different components of mining extraction, processing and manufacturing. “Ultimately, by the end of the six-book series, the children have to build their own machine to try to stop Sulfur,” Jules explained. “That’s where a huge engineering component comes into play.”

Yet, writing a children’s book wasn’t easy. Even though Ryan got his bachelor’s degree in mining engineering and a master’s in mineral and energy economics from Mines, he still had to do a lot of research to provide the background for the book. “As a mining engineer, the geology is already decided for you, and you’re just focused on getting the mineral out in the most cost-effective and safe way possible,” he said. “For me, it took a lot of research to refresh my memory, and I still have a lot to learn.”

With background from Ryan, Jules drafted the story, but the couple really took a chance with their manuscript when Ryan came across an advertisement in Mining Engineering Magazine for a contest called “Move Mining.” The contest called for projects aiming to change the perception of the mining industry. With the deadline the next day, Ryan quickly drafted a concept of their book and decided to give the contest a shot. “Two weeks later, we were notified that we were one of the finalists,” Ryan said. “We didn’t win the contest, but after our presentation, we were approached by companies who wanted to partner with us. One of the companies already had an educational initiative for middle school students but had nothing for elementary-age children. Our book was a perfect fit.”

“The mining industry is a necessary collaborator in modern technology, and we want to teach that to kids,” Jules explained. “We are very specific in this first book to focus on a mineral that is found in electronics, because we want children to understand that the technology they’ve grown very accustomed to comes from somewhere.”

And it just so happens that The Mineral Maniacs perfectly supplements the curriculum of its target age group. Third- to fifth-grade students in Colorado elementary schools learn about earth science, specifically rocks and minerals, as well as some mining and geology terminology that aligns perfectly with the adventures in the book. “We’re hoping to develop a study plan for teachers to detail exactly how this book series will line up with certain educational requirements and have some activity companions to go along with it,” Jules said.

“We believe good storytelling can take kids on adventures to spark an early interest in science and technology,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t have to be either science or the arts; it’s all part of who we are and where we are going.”

To get your own copy of The Mineral Maniacs or to learn more about the series, visit The book is also available from Amazon and other bookstores.